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IWPR Releases New Findings on Increasing Importance of Social Security

A January 27 event at the National Press Club brought together experts on Social Security and the economy to discuss findings.

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

Social Security is vital to women and minorities. For many, this is not new knowledge. More surprising are findings from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that rates of reliance on Social Security increased dramatically between 1999 and 2009—particularly among men. The findings were released on January 27 in our latest report, Social Security Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant, authored by Heidi Hartmann, Jeff Hayes, and Robert Drago.

At the National Press Club, IWPR President Heidi Hartmann presented IWPR’s new findings at a release event that coincided with the kick-off of the annual conference of the prestigious National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI).

The report finds that, between 1999 and 2009, the number of men aged 65 and older relying on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes increased by 48 percent (from 3.8 million to 5.7 million) to equal more than a third of all men aged 65 and older in 2009. The increase for comparable women was 26 percent (from 8.2 million to 10.3 million) to equal half of older women in 2009.

Dr. Hartmann, lead author of the report, was joined by other experts who shared their views on the report’s findings—Dr. Gary Burtless, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution; Virginia Reno, Vice President for Income Security,  NASI; and, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, President and CEO, Global Policy Solutions.  Dr. Robert Drago, IWPR’s Director of Research, moderated the panel.  All the presentations are available to be viewed on YouTube.

The main theme of the discussion was the need for preserving the Social Security system, because of the impact that cuts would have for many who depend on it. Speakers pointed to how, particularly in the aftermath of the recent recession, Social Security is increasingly essential to keep many out of poverty. “For the majority of the aging population, the Social Security safety net is getting the job done,” said Virginia Reno.

“This [report] is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of how many older people, and particularly different population groups among the aged, depend on Social Security,” said Dr. Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institute. “It’s the most important source for the great majority of the elderly. Cutting it would have serious repercussions for the most vulnerable of the aged.”

IWPR’s report shows that, in 2009, Social Security helped more than 14 million Americans aged 65 and older stay above the poverty line. Without access to Social Security, 58 percent of women and 48 percent of men above the age of 75 would be living below the poverty line.

Dr. Burtless pointed to the fact that the social safety net continues to “get the job done” for the majority of the nation’s aged population, including those in the lowest income distribution brackets. As a result, many have been spared from the worst impact of the recent recession.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore of Global Policy Solutions put forth the significance of the findings to communities of color, “a population that was already suffering from disparities in assets and income prior to the financial crisis.” She pointed to the asset gap outlined in the report, with white women in particular having more income from assets than black or Hispanic women.

IWPR’s research found that, among women aged 62-64, white women report an average of $3,471 in income from assets compared with $1,738 for black women and $1,417 for Hispanic women. Among women aged 75 and older, white women report $3,278 in income from assets, compared with $715 for black women and $549 for Hispanic women, on average.

“I would argue that the fact that we’ve seen increases in reliance in Social Security over the past 10 years is going to be a harbinger of the future as well,” said Dr. Rockeymoore. “Overall we know that this is going to have significance—severe significance—for populations of color in the future, not only today’s retirees.”

Additional findings from the report support the continued need for Social Security among minorities and women, who benefit disproportionately from Social Security because the program is designed to pay proportionally higher benefits to lower earning workers. Women also benefit from the program’s family benefits.

The study is based on IWPR analysis of data from the 1978 to 2010 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplements collected jointly by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Please read the report in full on IWPR’s website.

To follow the conversation on Social Security, follow IWPR on Twitter. Join the conversation by using the hashtags #Social Security and #womenspolicy.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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